Summary: What we mean when we talk about the Communion of Saints
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
TEXT: Hebrews 12:1-4
This week we will begin looking at some of the questions you asked to hear sermons
about. I received quite a few, so given the breaks we will take for special services and seasons, it
will probably be early next year before we finish with all of them. Since today is a communion
Sunday, I decided to begin with the first question that was submitted... "What is the Communion
Communion of Saints is a phrase that you would be familiar with if you are used to
reciting the Apostle’s Creed. Along with a list of other things, we proclaim that we believe in the
"communion of saints," but the concept is never explained. It just sits there in a list and lets you
wonder what you have just professed. To head into this we need a couple of definitions. First,
"communion." The narrow sense of the word "communion" is as the technical term for the
sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
What we want here, however, is the broader sense of the word in which a group of people
"commune" together. It’s a word that comes from the same root as the word "community," and
it implies being together...not just in body, but in heart. To be in communion with someone is to
be open to someone at a deep, heart level...which is why the sacrament of Holy Communion is
such a powerful agent for reconciliation and forgiveness. It is a time when God opens up to us
through Jesus’ broken body and shed blood and when we acknowledge that before God we are all
equal...one with each other because Jesus has allowed us to be one with Him.
The second word that needs understanding is "saints." If you come from a Roman
Catholic background, you are used to a whole list of people who have been formally named
"saints." That is not what we mean. "Saint," here, means the same thing that Paul meant when he
wrote his letters to the "saints" in this place and that. "Saint" in the Bible, simply means a
believer. Someone who is a professing Christian. The word "saint" means "holy one" in both
Greek and Hebrew, and to be "holy" merely means to be set apart. When we say, "Yes, I am a
Christian" we have set ourselves apart from the rest of the world. Not that we don’t interact or
take part in earthly activities, but that we do so in ways and with motivations that are different
from those who have not made such a profession.
So...the Communion of Saints...is talking about the way Christians commune with each
other...how we do and should interact with each other...how we should live out our unity in Jesus.
I think there are two great examples of what that looks like. Remember back a week or so ago to
the miners caught in the Pennsylvania coal mine. Probably they weren’t thinking, "Hey, if we tie
ourselves together, we’ll be a great illustration for the Communion of Saints," but it turned out
that way anyhow. Those nine men were determined that they would stick together no matter
what. Nobody who died would just float away into oblivion, and if one were found, all of them
would be found together.
That is exactly the kind of mutual support that we say we believe in when we say, "I
believe in the Communion of Saints." We who have set ourselves apart to live as Christians need
to be roped together, because what happens to one of us affects us all. We should be unwilling
that any one of us should just be able to float away into oblivion, and we all ought to be helping
each other travel along in the same direction. Think of what being tied together means. Nobody
really is on their own. Some might be stronger than others, some might need to be carried for a
bit...but you have to work it out so that everybody is at least trying to go in the same direction or
nobody is going to get anywhere.
That’s what Christian faith is supposed to be...no lone rangers. No competition.
Teamwork. Yes, it’s harder that way for the strong ones; but we are called to be shepherds for
the weak ones. Those miners felt emotionally stronger knowing that they were committed to each
other. Nobody was trying to survive at the expense of the othersûeach one was working for the
good of the whole. You don’t have to look very far these days to see what happens when people
never learn that lesson. Anyone of those coal miners could have taught WorldCom a lesson...or
Enron...or Tyco...or any of a host of others.
The Communion of Saints is an important concept because it is a way to keep the Body of